Dimension Data have completed the signings of two young riders, with the Australian Ben O’Connor joining from Avanti-IsoWhey Sports and Ryan Gibbons coming up from Dimension Data’s Continental feeder team.
O’Connor, just 20 years of age, has only been racing for two seasons at Continental level but his performances have been such that he had several suitors offering pro contracts for next year. A natural climber, he won the New Zealand Cycle Classic thanks to a stage win on Admiral Hill, and went on to finish third overall at the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc.
"Gradual development is what I want to achieve as a rider and to be able to keep progressing as a climber and perhaps get some sort of a result,” he told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview that will be published later today.
“Whether that be in young rider classifications or take an opportunity in a breakaway and be the unknown a little it. The main ambition is to keep on developing and become the best rider that I can be."
South African Ryan Gibbons bolsters the team’s African core, having ridden at the World Cycling Centre team and then at the Dimension Data for Qhubeka Continental team last season. The Dimension Data management were convinced he was ready for the professional ranks after a stagiaire stint from this August, in which he competed in a string of late-season one-day races, finishing 12th as the team’s best-placed rider at the Munsterland Giro.
“I am so fortunate and have been privileged to get this wonderful opportunity to join Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka. Coming up from its Continental outfit is going to make the step a lot easier as it’s a familiar environment and both teams use similar systems and there are many other parallels," he said in a statement from the team.
"I’m grateful to have been given a taste of what pro cycling is about as a stagiaire. This has opened my eyes and given me a hunger and huge motivation for the future. I hope to be a valuable member of the team and ultimately achieve much success.”
While O’Connor and Gibbons will turn professional with Dimension Data, it remains to be seen whether they will be officially riding at WorldTour level next year, since the team’s top-tier status is under threat. The quota of WorldTour teams is expected to drop from 18 to 17 from next year and despite Tinkoff and IAM both folding, the arrival of Bahrain-Merida, who have signed Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali, and the ambitions of Bora-Hansgrohe, who have signed world champion Peter Sagan, means there is a surplus of team fighting for the 17 places.
Having finished at the bottom of this year’s WorldTour rankings, Dimension Data have found themselves in a three-way battle for the two remaining places, and, with licences to be awarded primarily on sporting criteria, they seem to lack the WorldTour points accrued by the other two teams via the acquisition of successful riders.
O’Connor and Gibbons take the team’s signings for 2017 to five, with Lachlan Morton having joined from Jelly-Belly Maxxis, Scott Thwaites from Bora-Argon 18, and Ben King from Cannondale-Drapac.
“I always really enjoy the energy and big wide open eyes of young riders as they embark on a journey that is unknown to them,” said team manager Doug Ryder of his new signings. “The passion and dedication is so contagious and affects a whole team so positively. When you surround them with a great culture, amazing people, mentorship and a high performance environment then magic happens.
“To see both Ryan and Ben show such determination and will power this year it is a pleasure to have them join Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka as neo-pros. We have high hopes for both of them as they become the aspirational riders of our feeder team and the inspiration to so many in communities that Qhubeka shifts with bicycles.“